What TV Executives Don’t Understand About the Climate Emergency

Still from The Day After Tomorrow
Credit: 20th Century Fox
Baratunde Thurston
September 21, 2021

A few weeks ago, my friend Anand Giridharadas was preparing to guest host a show on MSNBC, and he asked if I could join him on set to provide some tongue-in-cheek commentary about the latest United Nations climate report. Because what’s friendship about, really, if not to be invited onto national television to gently mock the impending end of the world as we know it? 

I was pleasantly surprised to receive the call. Anand was, after all, the first person in the cable news universe to actually invite me to speak on these issues. I’m not a climate scientist, but I am on the record as supporting the continued habitability of the only planet that’s capable of supporting billions of human lives. 

Of course, I’ve been asked to come on air countless times to address some version of, “What horrible thing have Republicans done now?” Or “Racism. Still bad?”—both sugar-high segments intended to keep viewers awake until the next Flonase ad. But anytime I have pitched cable executives on new programming about the climate crisis—the greatest and most dramatic crisis our species has faced—I always heard some variation of the same excuse. They told me people weren’t smart enough to “get it”—while padding broadcast schedules with a parade of legal analysts. They told me it was too depressing—then proceeded to force-feed a nation endless speculation over the latest horrors of the 45th president for four years and counting. They told me there are no human stories—which translates to, “We haven’t bothered to find the stories of humans we don’t already talk about or listen to.”